2015 in review: food 

click to enlarge Even the simplest fare at Milktooth is pretty special. - SARAH MURRELL
  • Even the simplest fare at Milktooth is pretty special.
  • Sarah Murrell

Someone just asked me if 2015 was an unprecedented year in Indianapolis when it came to new restaurants. It’s easy to say yes, because 2015 did see a helluva lot of openings. I report on new restaurants every other week on WISH-TV’s Indy Style, and I haven’t run out places to talk about yet.

Go ahead and give it a try. Start jotting down the names of the most recent restaurants: Marrow, Pioneer, Kuma’s Corner. And that’s just in Fountain Square. Broaden your search to take in the rest of the city, and you’ll quickly get to 20 or more.

But I’d argue that it’s not unprecedented. In fact, if you’ve been following along the last few years, you‘ll see that the precedent was definitely set.

Consider that 2014 saw Milktooth, Thunderbird, Union 50, Plow & Anchor, Public Greens, the North End, the first Georgia Reese’s and the Mass Ave. Pizzology open, and you start to see the trend.

So, no, it wasn’t unprecedented, but 2015 was definitely a great year for food and drink in Indianapolis.

For one thing, 2015 was the year that the national food media discovered Indianapolis. More specifically, they discovered Milktooth and its 31-year-old chef/owner Jonathan Brooks.

Now, local chefs and restaurants have gotten national attention before, particularly James Beard award semifinalists like Regina Mehallick, Greg Hardesty and Neal Brown. Bluebeard’s Abbi Merriss and Smoking Goose’s Chris Eley are no slouches when it comes to national recognition either. But Brooks brought it home in a big way.

Before Milktooth had been open a year, he had been tapped by Food & Wine magazine as one of the year’s best new chefs, and Milktooth made Bon Appetit magazine’s Hot 10 list of the best new restaurants in America. Bon Appetit also recognized Milktooth pastry chef Zoe Taylor’s honey whey cake as one of the year’s best desserts.

In fact, I’m getting so used to all the Milktooth love that I wasn’t surprised when the restaurant showed up on a “best brunch” episode of Food Network’s Top Five Restaurants show.

The Cake Bake Shop, the Broad Ripple bakery that Gwendolyn Rogers launched in late 2014, is also getting a share of the national spotlight. Rogers was recently on The Chew, and the shop was featured on a recent episode of the Food Network’s Guilty Pleasures.

And you’ll continue to see other local restaurants and chefs featured in the national food media – I’m sure of it. Because Indianapolis chefs and restaurateurs continue to raise the bar.

And speaking of restaurateurs, 2015 saw former restaurateur Peter George get back into the biz last January when he opened Tinker Street with fellow industry veteran Tom Main. With chef Braedon Kellner in the kitchen, the little restaurant – there are only about 34 seats indoors – has been a big hit and a boost to its Herron-Morton and Old Northside neighborhoods.

And even though he hesitates to use the “R” word, veteran chef Tony Hanslits, who was the opening chef at Peter’s back in 1985, also got back into the restaurant game in 2015 with the opening of the Back Room Eatery at his SoBro shop Nicole-Taylor’s Pasta and Market.

Other notable openings of 2015 included Bent Rail Brewery from chef Craig Baker and biz partner Derek Means, who also have The Local Eatery & Pub in Westfield and Plow & Anchor downtown. SoBro’s Bent Rail will soon be offering its own brews and is fast becoming a neighborhood hub by hosting the new Broad Ripple Winter Farmers’ Market.

Other chefs and restaurants that you’ll continue to hear about include Chris and Ally Benedyk at Love Handle, who opened their bright little breakfast/brunch/lunch place on East 10th Street with a creative menu full of big flavors. Chef John Adams’ recently opened Marrow is definitely a place to watch, as is nearby Pioneer.

And it looks like 2016 will start out strong as well. Rook chef/partner Carlos Salazar will soon be opening a bigger version of that restaurant just a few blocks away from the original – which, in a happy renaissance, has become the new brick-and-mortar location of Spice Box. Also look for chef Layton Roberts at Vida, the latest restaurant from the Cunningham Group, which will be opening soon as well.

This time next year we’ll see just how good 2016 turns out to be.

I’m guessing pretty damn good.

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